How to Make Reading Aloud Work (for You and for Them)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

As I mentioned on Monday, reading aloud with your kids may be the most important thing you do as a parent. This idea has motivated and inspired me in new ways over the past few months. Here are a few things I have learned from The Read Aloud Handbook, various articles, talking to other parents, and just doing it.

(To put this in context, my boys are five and seven. The seven year old is reading pretty well on his own. The five year old not at all. We've gone through phases of reading to them separately or together. These days, it's together.)

(1) Let them read what they want. This one is so hard for me. When we go to the library, the boys choose commercial character books - Star Wars, Ninjago, etc. - or (ugh) a graphic novel. Seriously, those are the worst. Nearly impossible to read aloud. BUT. They are reading, or at least interested in books. That is the most important part. So, let them read what they want.

(2) At the same time, push them. Over time, I've been able to show my boys that other books exist. I've asked, "What are you interested in?" and we've checked out books about mining, sharks, pirates, naval battles, snakes, and most anything else that screams, "Boy." Inch by inch, we are getting closer to quality, and I'll take it. My older son recently brought home a book from a popular series, which I'd heard of but never read. He asked me to read it to him, and I did. I couldn't stand it. The child spoke to every adult in a sassy tone and I found myself editing it as I read. When he asked me to read more later, I decided to be honest. He didn't have much reaction when I told him why I didn't like the book, but I noticed that he returned it to the school library and hasn't returned with anything like it since. There are so many choices when it comes to books (and life in general . . . ). My hope is that he is learning to discern.

Sometimes, I suggest something completely out of the box, and the boys surprise me by agreeing. For example, we read my childhood copy of Snow White. They loved it. The beautiful illustrations helped, as did the funny dwarves and scary witch.

For longer books, I've directed the boys since they aren't sure where to start. We've read a number of Roald Dahl books, and after reading Begin and Wide Water we are waiting on the third Growly book to be released. Meanwhile, we are enjoying Stuart Little and starting an E.B.White kick. I (obviously) like a series and find this sort of pattern enjoyable for me to read, too.

(3) Let others do it. Don't be a control freak. Dad might do different (or better) voices for the characters than Mom. The babysitter might read more than one chapter. Grandfather might read slowly. Aunt's pace might force them to keep up. Variety is the spice of life.

(4) Start by asking, "Where did we leave off?" or "What happened last time?" When you relinquish the reigns, these questions help get you back up to speed. More importantly, they set the mood for what you are about to do (read together) and they help the children remember what is going on. Remembering gets their imaginations actively engaged and wondering, "What will happen, next?"

(5) Don't expect "perfect" listening. How quickly we can ruin the mood by fussing at our kids to sit still! be quiet! pay attention! If they aren't cuddling up to me all cozy and confined, then I think, "This isn't working." On the contrary, I've learned, through much trial and error, that my boys are listening when they are fidgeting. Running around the room - no. But sitting next to me working on a bracelet - yes. This goes back to (2) - Don't be a control freak.

(6) Decide this is important. This is the way I got started, and probably will be the only way we will stick with it. But this one is easy, because reading with your children IS important. It just is. And it can be fun, too.
Will you start tonight?
Do you have any tips to share?

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One Response to “How to Make Reading Aloud Work (for You and for Them)”

  1. We go through spurts where we read together. Lately, we haven't. This makes me miss it oh so much.